Warnock seeks to expand high-tech agriculture through farm bill

The sprawling bill will have huge impact on Georgia’s $74 billion ag industry
Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock talks with Lee Nunn while touring his farm in Madison on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023.ÊÊÊ(Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

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Sen. Rev. Raphael Warnock talks with Lee Nunn while touring his farm in Madison on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023.ÊÊÊ(Ben Gray / Ben@BenGray.com)

Credit: Ben Gray

MADISON — Despite the chaos in Washington and the looming threat of a government shutdown next month, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., is setting his sights on another major piece of legislation that Congress needs to pass soon: the farm bill.

On Wednesday, with negotiations over the huge package well underway, Warnock traveled an hour east of Atlanta to Madison to outline his priorities for the bill and meet with a farmer.

“Farmers are in a tough business,” said Warnock, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Everything we can do to give farmers a boost, we ought to do that.”

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

Credit: Ben Gray for the AJC

The farm bill is a sprawling package of legislation that funds an enormous range of programs, from crop insurance and nutrition assistance to agricultural research and food export policy. Historically, Congress has reauthorized farm bills roughly every five years: The last one, an $867 billion behemoth, was passed in 2018 during the Trump administration.

In Georgia, which boasts a $74 billion agriculture industry that is the economic backbone for many rural communities, the farm bill has wide-ranging implications for farmers and their businesses.

In Madison, Warnock drove a tractor through the fields of Lee Nunn, a farmer who grows cotton, corn, wheat and soybeans on his 1,700-acre farm.

Warnock and Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, have introduced bipartisan legislation that would improve access to “precision agriculture,” a suite of data-driven technologies that allow farmers to use resources, like water and fertilizer, as efficiently as possible.

Over the years, Nunn has incorporated more precision agriculture tools on his farm, like high-tech soil monitors, irrigation equipment and sensors that record weather conditions. Nunn said the data has helped improve his bottom line.

“When you add it all together on the farm, it makes a big difference,” he said.

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

But there are currently no compatibility standards in the precision agriculture space, Warnock said, sometimes forcing farmers like Nunn to buy expensive adapters so equipment made by different manufacturers can work together.

“The farmers are making great use of soil sensors, robotics, drones, a whole range of technologies,” Warnock said. “But the technology doesn’t always talk to one another.”

Warnock and Thune’s bill would create a task force to establish a set of interconnectivity standards, which the senator said he hopes will allow more farms to operate efficiently.

Boosting crop insurance, protecting SNAP

After a series of climate change-fueled disasters — like hurricanes, droughts and abnormally warm winters —have rocked Georgia’s agriculture industry, Warnock said that bolstering crop insurance is also a top farm bill priority.

The farm bill also funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a critical safety net program that helps defray the cost of food for low-income families. Roughly 700,000 Georgians receive food stamps through the program.

During the last round of farm bill wrangling, then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans pushed to place new conditions, like work requirements, on families to be eligible for SNAP. Though the restrictions failed to pass in 2018, broader work requirements were approved in the package negotiated earlier this year to lift the country’s debt ceiling.

On Tuesday, Warnock signaled that he would fight any proposals to cut SNAP benefits or place new barriers around the program in this farm bill.

“I don’t think we have to choose between providing food security for those who are on the margins and supporting farmers,” Warnock said. “I reject wholeheartedly the idea that it’s one or the other.”

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